FAIRFIELD — The coronavirus might have forced Iowa schools to close for four weeks, but it hasn’t slowed down the cooks in the Fairfield Community School District.
The district announced Tuesday, March 17, that it will continue to provide breakfast and lunch to area youth while school is out of session until April 14. In fact, the meals will be offered free of charge, and not just to students enrolled in the district but to any child between the ages of 2 and 18.
Providing the meals during a pandemic presents a special challenge. Instead of hosting the meals in one of the district’s cafeterias, the food service department will offer the meals in bags that can be picked up at one of four buildings.
Since the food service department will be serving perishable goods including fresh fruit, vegetables and milk, the bags must be picked up during a limited window of time and either consumed or refrigerated as soon as possible.
The times and locations of the meal pickups will be in the parking lots at the following school buildings:
• Fairfield Middle School from 11 a.m. to noon;
• Washington Elementary School from 11 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.;
• Fairfield High School from 11:30 a.m. to 11:50 a.m.;
• Lincoln Center from noon to 12:30 p.m.
The district will offer these meal pickups twice a week, offering three breakfasts and three lunches in the bags on Monday, and two breakfasts and two lunches in the bags on Thursday. The program will begin Thursday, March 19, and is tentatively scheduled to end Monday, April 13, because school is scheduled to resume on April 14.
Fairfield Community School District Food Service Director Stephanie Hawkins said 266 kids are signed up to receive a meal so far, and she expects that number to reach at least 300. On a normal school day, the district feeds 1,100 children.
Hawkins said her department orders food two weeks in advance, so it already has supplies to prepare meals. Her staff went to work Wednesday, March 18, to prepare the bags that will be delivered the following day.
“There will be sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, milk, juice and grains,” she said. “It will cover basic nutrition.”
Hawkins said the unique circumstance presents a challenge for her staff. For instance, they are considering separating certain ingredients and asking the parents to put the meals together at home.
“If we put meat on the sandwich, will that soak into the bread? Those are the kind of things we’re planning for,” she said. “We’re doing our part to make sure these items are a quick prep for parents. We have a taco filling that we’re trying to figure out. Can we give parents instructions to warm it up? We know that the kids will get over eating sandwiches.”
To limit contact between the cooks and the public, parents and guardians are asked to remain in their vehicles when they queue for the bags. Of the district’s 14 cooks, 12 are staying on to prepare meals during the monthlong shutdown.
“Some of them have family at home they have to take care of,” Hawkins said. “All the hearts of our ladies want to be there, but some have other responsibilities. My staff is so glad we have this. I have 14 women who are thinking out of the box everyday about how we can feed more children. We don’t know how life would work without feeding kids.”
The district announced that its food pantry will move to the ACT building during the shutdown. For more, contact Matt Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via phone at 641-472-2655 or 319-775-5487.
Carry On Bags will continue to deliver bags to families who need them. Families who have signed up for a bag can pick it up between 4-6 p.m. Thursday evenings at First Methodist Church.